You don't have to just "get over" the death of a loved one

Last week I was out at lunch with a friend I’ve known since the kids were in primary school. We’ve spent hours and hours together helping out at school functions, sewing costumes for ballet school, working on the rugby club tuckshop and socialising over the years and I consider her one of my closest friends. But while we were eating lunch and discussing things she said something that totally blew me away.

Another good friend of ours lost her husband five years ago to prostate cancer. And, like many widows, she still struggles with the fact that her most loved is no longer here. While Michelle was talking about an upcoming event she said, “I wish Mary would just get over Phil. It’s been five years so she has to stop being miserable. It’s definitely time.”

I was a little horrified. Since when has there been a “used by date” on the grieving process. And furthermore, since when do friends stop understanding and supporting and instead start expecting things to change.

Why? Because apart from being correct on an ethical, emotional and human level, it is also scientifically impossible. Grief for some people in some forms, lasts forever. And it is so sad that as a society we’ve forced people to believe that their sadness needs to stop. An article published on The Conversation was written by a therapist who so often has clients come in to ask, “why am I still sad?” as if they have an illness or a problem.

The saddest part, is that when the question “why do you stop wanting to feel this way?” is put to these clients, instead of telling the therapist that they struggle with their own emotions or don’t like feeling this way, their answer is very different. It is often because they want to stop upsetting, irritating and angering the people around them.

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Someone who has lost someone they love in any capacity should not have to feel like their very real emotions are taking a toll on others – especially when “the others” are those who are meant to stand by you, support you and love you through times of turmoil.

Grief is a funny thing. For some people it lasts years and for others it is fleeting. We all grieve in different ways – some choose to forget, some become habitual, some don’t stop longing for what or who they have lost. But at the end of the day, there is no right or wrong to how we grieve. We shouldn’t box people into a stigma that their feelings need to change by a specific date or that they should follow some kind of timeline.

I think this week I need to talk to Michelle, because I feel so sad that Mary has people around her doing this and classifying her as one type of person because she has simply changed after a tragedy. Whether we like it or not, grief changes you. Life events, change you. And as the people who stand around others to love and support them, we need to realise, understand and accept that more. Because people like Mary don’t deserve to feel the pressure, when they are already dealing with something we can’t say we know.

Do you think as a society or a community, we are too quick to expect people to get over death? Do you think we need to be more understanding and supportive? Do you have your own story that you can share on the matter?